Tezuka, Ryoma, Atobe. The Match. No crack today, but a lot of analysis and questions.
66. Rondo to Destruction
Tezuka and Atobe continue to play. They're both good, Ryoma thinks, for old-timers. Which would be more mockable if they didn't really seem about ten years older than him.
Atobe thinks admiringly of Tezuka as they play. It's 3-2 Tezuka now. Everyone in the stands, both teams, seems nervous. Sakaki tells Atobe that Tezuka seems to be concerned about winning quickly.
Tezuka and Ryoma sit on the bench together, not speaking, not looking at each other. Momo and Eiji giggle about it, because extroverts cannot conceive of people being able to go for five minutes at a time without yapping.
Of course, this is just what Tezuka needs from Ryoma right now: his presence at the match and nothing more.
We swing over to Rikkai where Yanagi and Sanada talk about Atobe's special move, which he hasn't yet pulled out. There's a flashback to last year's selection camp. Tezuka must have been pretty pissed off that he didn't attend when he found out about the lovely purple uniforms they all had.
And so we see the Hametsu e no Rondo, Atobe's flashy smash. He hits the racquet out of the player's hand first and then smashes the ball on the next shot. Seems like a very Atobe move.
Atobe isn't using it against Tezuka, though, and Rikkai find that puzzling. And I've got to wonder -- did Tezuka lob on purpose because he'd heard about it and wanted to see it?
Fuji and Inui do their "I think..." "Oh, you too?" thing they use to mystify and intrigue everyone. In this case, they think the match will be bad.
Atobe can tell that Tezuka's elbow is healed, but that it has somehow put strain on his shoulder. How does this power of his work? I suppose he's able to observe small things that most people don't see and synthesize them into a theory. At first he just sees that it's Tezuka's arm, but after hearing about the elbow, he can narrow things down.
He really is quite amazing. He's a jerk, but he's a jerk who works really hard and is highly skilled. The song that always makes me think of Atobe is Kid Rock's Cocky. "It's not bragging, motherfucker, if you back it up."
Atobe gets a scary Fuji-like wind effect after hitting a shot so hard it blows away Tezuka's racquet (not the smash, though). Tezuka is surprised. Ryoma looks disconcerted. I think he's sensing that buchou might not be able to pull this one off, that it's not a sure thing.
Atobe intends to draw the game out. I can take you out of tennis forever with an hour's time, he thinks. And so we see that Atobe is Not A Nice Person. (Actually, we already knew that from the way he was manhandling An.) A proper sportsman would do his best in a good clean game and not try to deliberately injure someone. (Which makes Ryoma's Drive A at Akutsu quite interesting.)
Flashback to the doctor's office where Tezuka is told not to play long matches or use his drop shot much.
There's a lot of tennis with scary suspense music. Kaidoh tells Arai off for badmouthing Atobe. People call out "Tezuka!" and "Buchou!" at intervals.
And then there is a shot of Tezuka and the sound of breaking glass.
But Tezuka keeps on and Atobe seems surprised. Ryoma is impressed and concerned.
Atobe thinks that Tezuka was actually looking for a long match. Which, if he's right, and he usually is, seems odd. We will return to this later. Inui echoes Atobe's thought, so it must be right. So, what about Sakaki's earlier comment that Tezuka wants to finish the game quickly? Did Tezuka change his mind?
The floating head of Yamato-buchou appears and scares the shit out of me. But it seems to give Tezuka strength. Or maybe that was the therapy.
67. The Last Shot
Show me what you have until the end, Ryoma thinks. Tezuka is ahead 6-5. Everyone cheers. Kaidoh even raises his fist a little.
"Now let's play without regrets," Tezuka says. This is a pretty common theme in sports series. If you do your very best, even if you lose, you can go on with your life -- with the sport or with another occupation -- without regretting it.
They've been playing for an hour and a half so far. Inui puts away his notebook. There's no more data to take. Everything is down to guts now. Another common sports trope. At some point, skill is exhausted and the one with the most determination will win.
Tezuka spares a thought for Atobe: Sorry, but I'm going to take your place in going to Nationals. He serves and as he raises his arm, the Foley sounds like a glacier breaking up or something similar. It's a horrible grinding sound and there's no way it could be good.
But the serve is just as skilled and controlled as in the beginning. He's challenging Atobe. Ryoma approves. Tezuka lobs and Atobe uses the Hametsu e no Rondo. But Tezuka manages to hang onto his racquet and he not only returns the ball, but it starts up the Tezuka Zone! And the cherry on top is the Zero Shiki.
Right about now, we need Hikoichi to stand up and say: UNBELIEVABLE!
Everyone cheers. Except Ryoma. He must have an inkling.
Inui rambles on about the match. I search the stands for my lacrosse boys.
Just one more shot. That's all Tezuka needs. One more point to win the match. One more point. And the happy, you can do it! music plays. Right up until Tezuka gasps, drops his racquet, and falls to the court clutching his shoulder. (In the manga, it looks like he screams here, but he's not that loud in the anime.)
There's a Ryoma reaction shot, but it's Oishi who really gets the focus. "TEZUKA!" he yells.
All the regulars run out to the court. All except Ryoma. (And Kawamura, since he's still at the hospital.) None of them ran out on the court when Ryoma possibly had his eye gouged out.
Why doesn't Ryoma run out? Is it that he alone understands that Tezuka will continue to play? Is it that he's so shocked he can't move? That seeing Tezuka break has caused him to doubt and he's crushed in that moment? That he's comfortable on the bench?
Of course Tezuka sends them back. He's still going to play. Of course he shouldn't. And of course this is why Ryuzaki had to be away from the court, so she couldn't stop him.
Oishi hovers by the bench while Tezuka and Ryoma sit. (Oh, Oishi, darling.)
Atobe has what he wanted, but he's not happy about it. Seems that playing Tezuka taught him a thing or two about sportsmanship.
Inui and Fuji warn Tezuka not to keep playing. He's just going to hurt himself further and he's not going to win. Tezuka tests his arm. Ryoma is motionless beside him on the bench. He's not looking at Tezuka. What is he thinking? What a moment for Ryoma. I doubt he thought this could happen.
Tezuka walks out to the court. Oishi runs ahead and stands in front of him, just like he did when they were first years. They look at each other for a long time. "Oishi," Tezuka says. (Oh my god, I ship them so hard.)
"Are you trying to fulfil the promise you made with Yamato-buchou?" Oishi asks. "To open a path for the club to go to Nationals?"
There's an aural montage of all the team members's determination.
"We are going to Nationals," Tezuka says. And Oishi lets Tezuka step onto the court. Ryoma smiles a little.
Oishi has to be the one to give permission. Everyone else is shocked that he didn't make Tezuka stop. And if it had been any other player, I'm sure he would have. But the promise to Yamato and to each other takes precedence.
Kawamura is back from the hospital and he raises the Seigaku flag.
Ryoma gets up from the bench. He knows what he has to do now; nobody tells him to. Throughout this scene, his eyes have been in shadow under his cap. He stops behind Tezuka, still not looking directly at him. "Don't lose after you've won against me."
"I won't lose." But of course they are preparing for his loss.
Ryuzaki is back so she makes a little speech about her stubborn boys and how that's the mark of a real player. But I doubt she knows just how injured Tezuka is right now.
Momo leaves too, to help Ryoma warm up. I guess the stress of the match is getting to him.
Atobe takes the last point and they go to a tiebreak. After Atobe's serve, Tezuka gets shiny glasses! He takes the point and Atobe is shocked. But Tezuka's serves suck, so Atobe takes those. I'm actually surprised Tezuka doesn't switch to his right hand to serve. Even if he hasn't practiced right-handed recently, it ought to be better than his injured left arm.
Atobe is seriously impressed. He didn't expect Tezuka so play so recklessly, to be so determined for Seigaku. He determines to try his best, no matter how long the tiebreak lasts.
68. The Never Ending Tie Break
I am writing this the same day Genius 304 dropped and oh the episode title makes me giggle.
Ryoma and Momo return to the court. 35 all. Neither Atobe nor Tezuka will let points slip.
"Buchou!" Ryoma says. He's clearly shocked. No one can believe it.
Atobe was wrong about Tezuka. He thought Tezuka was calm, but now he can see Tezuka's passion. Atobe says the match is meaningless to him but he will put his all behind every ball.
Tezuka's passion is still not really evident from his expression. Just from his actions.
Kachiro asks Oishi why he doesn't stop it. Oishi says they are using tennis to compete in a battle of will. I don't really know what that's supposed to mean.
Tezuka hits a zero-shiki, but it won't work properly and Atobe returns it. Then Tezuka's return hits the net and he loses the match.
Everyone is shocked. So was I, the first time I saw this.
When they shake hands, Atobe raises Tezuka's hand and the crowd gives them an ovation.
Ryoma comes down to the front of the stands and he and Tezuka look at each other. Tezuka has broken his promise to win the match.
Ryoma is ready to play, since they are 2-2 with one tie. And it's Tezuka, not Ryuzaki, who sits on the bench for the match. Tezuka reminds him of his admonishment when they played their match. Become Seigaku's pillar of support. They look at each other even longer.
Hiyoshi seems scary. He's likely to be Hyotei's next captain. Inui has all his data. Not, you know, Ohtori and Shishido's, just Hiyoshi's. Momo seems a little worried by Inui's thoroughness. Does he know that Inui carries Momo and Kaidoh's pictures around with him?
Hiyoshi has this long, rambling internal monologue about how he's going to move up in the order and take the Singles 2 spot. In fact, he will eventually take Singles 1 from Atobe. Which I'm not surprised he says, in general, but to say that right after that match! How does he think he's going to surpass that level in a few months?
While Hiyoshi is being self-absorbed, Ryoma serves and puts an ace by him. Next, a twist serve that makes Hiyoshi drop his racquet. Hiyoshi returns the last Twist serve, but then Ryoma hits a right-handed Zero Shiki!
Ryoma is clearly fired up. Especially with
Hiyoshi has a rather weird form, based on a type of martial arts. He takes the next two games. "You're unexpectedly good," Ryoma says and switches his racquet to his left hand. He is such a show off. He talks trash to Hiyoshi.
People think Ryoma won't be able to keep up the fast pace in the second half. But if Ryoma was playing in junior tournaments in the states, he would be used to playing at least two sets in a match.
Ryoma easily defeats Hiyoshi. Fuji is awed by Ryoma's prowess. He looks a little scared, even.
And all's well that ends well. But did this really end well?
Tezuka promises Ryoma that he will win the match, but loses it. At twelve years old, can Ryoma be philosophical enough to see that Tezuka did his best to keep that promise? And note that the promise was extracted not on behalf of Seigaku, but on behalf of Ryoma himself. "Don't lose after you've won against me." I'm really not sure how this broken promise affects Ryoma. He plays his match with verve, he doesn't seem down. But it's got to be a blow.
And how does it affect Tezuka? He must think of it. He's the kind who will always do what he says he will. He must feel even more responsibility to Ryoma now.
Tezuka also promises both Yamato and Oishi that Seigaku will go to Nationals. And that promise he keeps. Even though he loses this match, his leadership of the team and his mentoring of Ryoma make them strong enough to push through. Even this loss is inspiring to the team. I've always thought that Tezuka's influence over the team was the greatest when he was away from them. They worked even harder so they wouldn't let him down.
Pressures on Tezuka
If Seigaku loses to Hyotei, they don't go to Nationals. That is a huge source of pressure, both to Tezuka as an individual facing this match and as the captain of the team.
Besides taking his team all the way, as the captain and as a renowned player, he's got the weight of people's expectations on his back -- his friends, his club members, his fans. He has a responsibility to do his best.
As well, the stands are full of high school and even pro scouts. How he performs in this match may have a great impact on his future.
He has chosen to mentor Ryoma and to have Ryoma there to watch the match. He has to show Ryoma a good game, to show how a real sportsman approaches his sport, in order to promote his growth.
I suspect Tezuka puts a lot of pressure on himself as well. Oishi says he practices in huge amounts.
He must be pretty tense, poor guy. Did I mention he's also president of the student council?
Why Does Tezuka Go So Far?
That's really the question. What with all the promises and responsibilities and pressures and expectations, there's not much else he can do. He's got an iron will. He won't give up, no matter the cost.
There's a real "with your shield or on it" theme in sports series, I find. Even if you could sustain a career-threatening (and sometimes worse!) injury, it is still nobler to continue, than to return to fight another day.
I think there's more, though. Tezuka does this for Seigaku, for Oishi, for Ryoma, for himself. But I think that he may also, likely unconsciously, do it to escape. He must know that even if he wins, he's going to be out of tennis, at least for a while, perhaps forever.
When we see him later in Germany, he is so relaxed, much more so than we ever see him at Seigaku. He laughs! He is friendly with the other patients! He fantasizes about Sanada! *koff* He is out from under the pressure. And there's a bit of a feeling to me, in the anime, that his return to Seigaku isn't a sure thing. Nothing anybody says, maybe more what they don't say.
(The differences between the manga and anime are intriguing, but I'm only dealing with the anime here. See my other post for more on this.)
Tezuka loves tennis, but I wonder if the position he is in is too much for him, if the pressure is crushing that love out of him. When he's away, he can regain that. Is this why it seemed to Atobe and Inui like he was going for a long game?
Still and all, at no time during that match does Tezuka look like giving up. Often, we see one of the team sinking during a match and being pulled up by their teammates or by their opponent or something. That doesn't happen here. Even Oishi and Ryoma are just there. They probably lend him strength by their presence, but it's not like he seems to need it to convince himself to keep going.
In the fight against Atobe, Tezuka is at a disadvantage. It's clear to everyone, especially Atobe, that the match is uneven because of Tezuka's injury and Atobe can't really boast about beating Tezuka.
Tezuka opponent is really himself. His injury, his pressures, his promises -- that's what he's fighting. It's quite depressing, actually.
The Effect on Ryoma
I really don't know. He's not quite as hard as Tezuka to figure out, but we still don't really get inside his head. He's just seen the man who defeated him but gave him confidence broken down. It seems to have fired him up initially, but how is it going to be over time? I shall watch for that more over the next few episodes.
Your thoughts, as always, are encouraged.